Scratch another one off the list! I *finally* made it to Chives! *waits for the crowd to stop cheering*
Okay, but seriously, I really was just waiting for an excuse to indulge in a nice meal there. I have heard only good things: local, seasonal, fresh fare. Simple dishes with a creative twist.
And according to their own website:
“We strive to offer an extraordinary casual dining experience for our guests, void only of pretense, and full of sincere Nova Scotian hospitality. We use seasonal ingredients and look to Nova Scotia first for our products, then to the Maritimes.”
I’m down with their food philosophy, and they’ve been in business in Halifax since December 2001 (I believe), which means they must be doing something right.
Nestled in a small, quirky space on Barrington Street (an old bank, evidenced by the remaining vault, that is now used as a wine cellar of sorts), the decor is warm and earthy, with driftwood sculpture, waterscape paintings, stained glass, salt crystal candle holders on each table, and low lighting. A lot of thought and care has gone into giving this dining room a rustic and elegant feel.
But to keep the atmosphere fun and lively, jazzy tunes were pumped into the dining room during our Friday night dinner, and people happily chattered away, while sipping cocktails and wine and savouring their meals.
While I was excited to finally visit Chives, I was also a bit sad about the occasion: my brother, Ben, was leaving for Alberta the next day. No, he’s not going off to work on the rigs. Rather, he’s chosen another ski town to call home for a season (I keep warning him that Banff is no Whistler…), and we wanted to celebrate his adventure by enjoying a nice meal as a fam.
I made reservations for 6:45 p.m., which seemed early enough that we wouldn’t be famished when we arrived, but also wouldn’t be borderline “early bird” diners. It’s a thin line to tread, my friends. :)
Our server was absolutely lovely: attentive, without being cloying, informed, and, most importantly, she had a sense of humour. There’s nothing worse than a fine dining restaurant with stuffy staff. Fer real. People wanna have fun when they eat out.
Brother Ben and I both ordered one of my favourite cocktails: the Dark ‘n Stormy (a highball cocktail concoction of ginger beer, cane sugar, dark or spiced rum and lime: sweet with a bit of zing). I love mine: simple, a wee bit sweet… But Ben commented that his tasted like iced tea. Meh. I noticed that he finished it, anyways! My one comment is rather finicky, but really, I’m not down with plastic swizzle sticks or swords for garnish. This place is pretty locavore-focused, and seems to use a lot of organic materials (cork menus, salt crystal candle holders, wood everything…). Why not use a more eco-friendly material, like sugar cane swizzle sticks? It would fit well with the decor and add a sophisticated, thoughtful touch to the cocktail menu, IMO. Just a suggestion!
Moms ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, and my darling, predictable Kevin ordered some domestic beer. *sigh*
Since their focus is on seasonal and local fare, the menu isn’t huge, which I actually really like. Those of us who suffer from the dreaded Order Anxiety don’t have to agonize over our decisions, and there really is ample selection for any palate.
We whet our appetites with their airy buttermilk biscuits, served in a stamped paper bag and smeared with whipped butter and molasses. They are phenomenal: Not greasy, like many biscuits, but flavourful and almost flaky.
My mom doesn’t have a very large appetite, so she quickly decides to try their daily special appetizer as her meal (gotta hand it to her, she’s strategic: saving room for dessert). The special is a Snow Crab Bisque ($12.99), a rich and creamy soup punctuated with a crispy crab cake in the centre. She seemed to really enjoy it, confirming that it was, in fact, as sumptuous as it sounded.
Ben struggled with deciding, but ultimately settled on the Butter-Roasted Sea Trout and Grilled Scallops ($29.99). This dish features a smoked haddock potato cake, wilted greens, pickled beets and a roasted Valley corn sauce. Ben, normally a quick eater, savoured every bite, and carefully examined their plating before digging in (he has one year of culinary school under his belt, and a serious passion for anything edible).
(Note: I’m going to apologize at this point for the terrible photo quality. The lighting is dim, and I still have an iPhone 3GS, which doesn’t have a flash. Yep, you read that correctly. It is clearly time for an upgrade.)
I opted for the Lobster Crusted Haddock, because, well, it’s LOBSTER. CRUSTED. HADDOCK. *drool* The menu describes it as being served with a new garden vegetable hodge podge and lemon fennel salad, which kind of led me to believe that it would come with salad. Makes sense, no? Well, I was a wee bit sad when this arrived, sans salad/side:
It was a pretty small portion, and nary a crunchy bit of lemon fennel salad to be found, though perhaps it was buried beneath? Still, I didn’t detect any fennel or lemon in this dish… And though it was a small dish, they say that good things come in small packages (and they’re right: this had a silky-smooth texture, loads of lobster bits, and smooth, sweet flavours). I cheerfully cleaned my plate:
Kevin, my domestic-beer-meat-and-potatoes fella, ordered just that. Meat & Potatoes (seriously, it’s a main course). A generous portion of PEI beef striploin, prepared medium-rare and nestled atop a dijon potato puree, and served with mushroom & onion ketchup, candied field tomato, french onion gravy, and crispy potato frites, this dish was the star of the show, in my humble opinion (I even managed to sneak a piece of meat, when he wasn’t paying attention):
He was a happy man.
Somehow, when the dessert menus arrived, we just couldn’t say no. :)
Kevin and moms both ordered the Sugar Moon Maple Creme Brulee (I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of that dish; it was so pretty…) I did, however, snag a bite. There were a definite maple flavour, but it wasn’t overpowering, and the top had been torched to thin-and-crunchy perfection. That ultimately combination of creamy-smooth-crunchy; you can’t beat it.
Ben isn’t really a sweet-eater, which is somewhat shocking, because I’m fairly certain that our mother’s bloodstream is at least 50% sugar. Anyways, even he was persuaded into trying a dessert. He selected the BumbleBerry Brioche Pudding, served with white chocolate & berry sauces, a chantilly whip and honey vanilla ice cream:
I, on the other hand, am a chocolate lover, through-and-through. So it wasn’t really a contest: Flourless chocolate torte with whip and cinnamon ice cream:
All said it was a lovely dining experience: good company and service, a special occasion, and a decadent assortment of dishes. Definitely not an every-day dinner, but a perfect spot for a bit of a splurge.